Baghdad, Iraq The U.S. military predicted Thursday that more violence will engulf Iraq in the weeks ahead as the country's splintered politicians and religious groups struggle to form a government.
The warning followed a week marked by what U.S. Brig. Gen. Donald Alston described as "horrific attacks," amid deteriorating relations between Iraq's largest Shiite religious group and Sunni Arabs who make up the core of the opposition.
Alston, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition force, said attacks that have killed at least 500 people since the Dec. 15 elections were a sign insurgents were using the difficult transition to a new government to destabilize the democratic process. In the month since the elections, 54 U.S. forces also have been killed.
Violence dropped after Iraqis began celebrating the four-day Islamic feast of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, on Tuesday. But Alston said it was likely to rise.
"As democracy advances in the form of election results and government formation, and as the military pressure continues, and the pressure generated by political progress increases, we expect more violence across Iraq," Alston said at a news briefing.
Final election results have been delayed by Sunni Arab complaints of fraud, but are expected next week. Although politicians have hopes a government could be formed in February, most experts and officials agree it could take two to three months, as it did after the Jan. 30, 2005, elections.
The governing United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite religious bloc, has a strong lead, according to preliminary results. But it won't win enough seats in the 275-member parliament to avoid forming a coalition with Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties.
Alston said that as a new government starts forming, "those committed to seeing democracy fail will see this time of transition as an opportunity to attack the innocent people of Iraq."
He said the recent attacks, blamed mostly on extremists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq, were part of an "attempt to discredit and derail the progress of the Iraqi people."
At least 121 people were killed last week in twin suicide attacks against a Shiite shrine in the holy city of Karbala and a police recruiting center in Ramadi. A day earlier, 32 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a Shiite funeral in Muqdadiyah. Twenty-nine more died in an attack Monday on the Interior Ministry compound in Baghdad.
"The increase in attacks across Iraq this past week clearly indicates that al-Qaida and others terrorists still have the capability to surge," Alston said.
He denied allegations by leading Shiite politicians that the U.S. had restricted the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with insurgents after Sunni Arabs complained that brutal methods used by Interior Ministry forces have pushed Iraq to the brink of sectarian war. Hundreds of abused prisoners recently have been discovered, mostly in prisons run by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry - prompting complaints from U.S. officials.
"I would tell you that I do not see any additional procedures that have been employed, or I should say additional restrictions or additional requirements that have been levied on the Iraqi security forces that would tie their hands," Alston said.